What the Pixies Taught Me About Classical Music

What I enjoy most about collecting vinyl is that it forces a ritual onto your listening habits. There is no pause, skip, rewind, or shuffle. My record player does not fit into my pocket, it cannot be plugged into my car stereo, and I can't strap it to my arm, take it on a run, and have it double as a GPS. 

By choosing to listen to vinyl, I am choosing to occupy myself solely with sound; no distractions or other actions. The same room, same chair, but different albums, every day. Listening this way allows me to notice new things about old records, and give the respect that the music deserves.

This previous weekend I got a copy of Surfa Rosa by The Pixies. It's one of those albums where I can remember exactly where I was when I first heard it. I knew immediately that it was something new and amazing, and that I would probably always feel that way. While I was listening to my new record, I took note of the guitar (noise) solo dung the song Vamos.

For those listening at home it takes place from 1:10 – 3:40; the bulk of the cut

The Pixies – Vamos

This solo was eye opening to me in so many ways. It has nothing to do with melody or rhythm. It has nothing to do with scales, theory, technique, cleanliness, or composition. It is primarily a collection of textures including feedback, vocal grunting, string scratching, descending intervalic patterns, swelling whammy sounds, and random glissandos. It is a sound scape that is impossible to write down or reproduce the same way twice. It's only aural anchor is the steadfast drum and bass line that lay out the terrain for the solo. 

Listening this time I remembered the hours I spent with my guitars and my pedals in my parents house playing playing with different combinations of sounds, techniques, and effects as a means of discovering the sounds I was listening to. I also remember the hours I have spent inside practice rooms at the collegiate level with my classical guitar trying to interpret graphic notation and shape aleatoric improvisation in a compelling fashion. The divide between the music of Hans Werner Henze and the Pixies may seem insurmountable upon first glance, but the art of practicing and performing these musics are immensely similar.

As a classical musician I am most excited by music that requires anything unusual of the performer. If the score looks more like a painting than a system of organizing sound I am intrigued. If the technique requires me to slap, whistle, bow, strike, scrape, and play the entirety of my instrument (not just the strings and fret board) than I am willing and able.

I enjoy the sense of freedom and temporal exploration that this kind of performance offers, and I feel apt to speak for these kinds of compositions. I have always felt that it was my eclectic taste and musical background that probably taught me these skills, but after hearing this moment on Surfer Rosa again, I am sure of it. I now know that I carry The Pixies with me on all stages and in all practice rooms, and I am proud of it. Compare my own recording of Hans Werner Henze's Memorias de "El Cimmaron" and see if you can hear the similarities in practice and sound despite the obvious differences in tonal universes.

David DeDionisio – El Cimarron You Dig?